Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear
Review Summary: Overall, the second half of the book makes it an interesting read, but the effect could have been reached much more efficiently by another author, I think. Too much of the novel – the characters’ relationships, the activities, and the ideas – are all very confused, half-finished and never quite dealt with in a satisfactory manner.
Anvil of Stars has an interesting premise as a sequel to Hammer of God (see previous review for that title here), but takes a while to get anywhere. The pacing is slow throughout the first half, and despite the overall theme – that a handful of children from the destroyed earth are seeking justice from the race that killed that planet – there oddly enough seems to be no distinct driving theme to the characterizations or trials during this section. The entire first half is a confused episodic piece of half-told stories and discussions about power, leadership, religious faith, human psychology, technology levels and trust between races, galactic strategic and tactical methods, with a little high-level physics thrown in just for fun, as a near-magical technological advance. The first have can be summarized as long, boring and unsatisfying.
The second half of the novel introduces a second race of beings, and the interactions between the characters become more interesting and strangely enough more focused with the addition of the new, unusual viewpoints provided by the alien race. The aliens themselves, and their psychology, philosophy, and mathematical premises are portrayed minimally, but very well. We learn little about their back-history, but learn enough about their culture to respect them as valid characters in the novel.
The second half of the novel also brings to the forefront some very high-level concerns about power and the justice in a retributive strike carried out a thousand years or more after the weapons which destroyed the earth were launched. Are the inhabitants which now occupy the “guilty” star system responsible for the sins of their ancestors or creators? Are these beings actual true beings or simply automatons? Either way, are they acting as a shield of innocents for the perpetrators, or living authentic lives of their own, occupying a system abandoned by the destructive race? The answers – or lack of answers – are very realistically unsatisfying, in the gray area of the actual world where morality isn’t always as clear-cut as it is on TV.
The human characterization is better than in the first novel, and it is nice to see a character we recognize, in the form of Martin, Arthur Gordon’s son. (Martin’s anger at the bastards who killed his dog is a nice touch – even though as a young adult he realizes a lot more was lost than the life of a single dog, he is still aware enough of himself to recognize that this was one of the things he loved most as a child which was taken away from him personally, and that it still hurts him to think of it.) Its nice to see some of his father in him as well, in his thoughts, actions, and methods – I think that was an unusually deft touch by the author. The “twist” at the end, involving Theodore could have been more effective, if only that character had been referenced more often, or played a bigger part in the novel’s events.
Overall, the second half of the book makes it an interesting read, but the effect could have been reached much more efficiently by another author, I think. Too much of the novel – the characters’ relationships, the activities, and the ideas – are all very confused, half-finished and never quite dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Not one of the better novels I have read, unfortunately.